03.12.2013 | 1:37 PM
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|So there are two things of which I am a huge fan: Dungeons & Dragons and the television show LOST. So when I decided to run my family through the Playtest version of the Isle of Dread, I found myself happily able to combine these two passions.
For those unfamiliar with LOST or the Isle of Dread, one involves a mysterious island populated by dangerous marauders, ancient monsters, mysterious temples, impossible creatures, natural disasters, and almost no means of escape. The other is a classic Expert D&D module written by David Cook and Tom Moldvay. If you are unfamiliar with either LOST or Isle of Dread, you probably won't get too much out of this article. So, obviously, I understand this blog is likely to have a limited audience.
WARNING: Spoliers abound! Both for LOST and the Isle of Dread. If you don't want spoilers, read no further!!!
I had already adventured through the original module, which was first published back in 1981 and I had a ton of fun with it. However, one drawback (some would call it a feature) is that there is not a lot of personality to the NPCs. They essentially exist as stat blocks with very generic motivations. The pirates pillage. The natives gather coconuts and spear things. The lizardfolk worship dragons and the cavemen paint.
Flash-forward 23 years. When ABC first premiered LOST in 2004, I remember thinking that there were a lot of parallels between the events in the television show and this adventure. A mysterious island. A lost civilization with ancient magic. Strange communities that interact in hostile manners. Lines in the sand beyond which it is not safe to pass.
Recently, my wife and I had been rewatching the series with our daughters (who are seeing it for the first time). They very much enjoy the series and we have a lot of fanciful conversations about what it would be like to be on LOST island and which characters we identify with, whether we'd kill innocents to save our children (as Michael does), and so on.
When I saw the playtest packet with the Isle of Dread, I immediately thought of combining the two. Here's how I did it...
First thing I did was change the identity of the journal writer from "RB" to "JS" (or Jack Shephard). Since my family's party did not have a cleric, I thought I'd make Jack an adventuring cleric so he could be available for any needed healing.
I changed the back story a bit. The heroes' employer -- Charles -- has recently obtained a sheet from a note found in a bottle that washed ashore and was signed by "JS". Charles believes that "JS" was a cleric who was lost at sea. He hires the PCs to find the island and rescue JS and any other survivors. He has commissioned a freight ship to take them to the coordinates of the island as revealed in JS' notes. Unfortunately, the freight ship runs aground as it approaches the island and is destroyed. The players wash ashore with most of their possessions destroyed. They have their armor, spellbook, weapons, a few random effects, and the player's map of the island.
By this point, the players did not suspect that I was running the Isle of Dread as LOST. They thought I was running the adventure straight out of the box. But what happened next left no doubt. I had the PCs wash up at a random point on the island. It turned out to be near the village of Tanaroa, which I had decided would be the beach camp of the LOST castaways. One of the other "villages" would be the cave system. Another village would be the Swan Hatch.
They reached the village and met with Claire, a new mother. She explained that "JS" was their cleric, a man named Jack. She was very worried because Jack, a rogue named Sawyer, a dwarf named Hugo, a tracker named Kate, and a man named Michael, had recently gone off into the jungle but had not returned. At this point my daughter asks "Claire" the name of the ship that crashed and left them here. She answered "Oceanic."
That's when the adventure turned from fun to awesomely fun. My players got totally into the mash-up, realizing their employer was none other than Charles Widmore.
They asked where Jack and his crew were headed and Claire pointed to a distant hex on the map. They hired Jin -- an elven sailor who spoke no common -- to take their small catamaran (the Elizabeth) to that hex. As they explored the center of the hex, they rescued some Neanderthals from giant medusa spiders (aranea in the adventure). The Neanderthals said they knew where Jack and the crew were, and would tell them if they did the Neanderthals a favor. They explained how the lizardfolk worshipped a new arrival to the island: a dragon only known as "Smokey". The lizardfolk would take captives and sacrifice them to Smokey. They asked the players to invade the lizardfolk lair and stop this dragon cult. They would repatriate any lizardfolk children to other lizardfolk communities on the island that had not yet been converted by the dragon.
This was disconcerting as the players had expected a faithful adaptation to LOST, but this story is in the original adventure, and had no analog to LOST. I think it's important when doing homage not to be slavishly faithful. The Neanderthals and lizardfolk have no analogs in the show. The party found themselves knee-deep in lizardfolk.
After successfully rescuing the lizardfolk children, the Neanderthals revealed that they saw JS, Sawyer, and Kate get abducted by the pirates and taken by ship to the pirates' barracks on the far side of the island. The pirates had abducted Michael's son, Walt. In exchange for Kate, Sawyer, and Jack, the pirates gave Michael his son back, a ship, and coordinated to leave the island. The Neanderthals showed the party where the pirates could be found.
Suddenly, the party was thrust into Season 2 of the series. Jin took them by sailboat around the island (where they got a glimpse of a giant statue of a four-toed foot) to where the pirates were. There, the heroes snuck into the camp, where they found Jack, Sawyer, and Kate in seperate huts. Jack had been brought there to cast cure disease on the pirate's leader, Ben, and was using Kate and Sawyer as pawns to convince him to cast the spell. So far, Jack had refused. In the end, the players negotiated a truce with the pirates. Jack cast cure disease in return for freedom for him, Kate, and Sawyer. The pirate also told them the coordinates to leave, though they had no ship that could take them. As they left, they also took two turncoats from the pirate crew -- a young boy named Karl and a woman named Juliet.
They got to back to the beach camp to recuperate from the adventure. Jack revealed that the island was full of "hatches" from an ancient culture that once lived on the island called "DHARMA". He believed the pirates had wiped out DHARMA some time ago. DHARMA had some very unsual magical abilities. He was convinced that in one of DHARMA's facilities is a way to get home. He began gathering provisions for another foray into the jungle.
Meanwhile, the party gets a nocturnal visit from some lizardfolk. Smokey is angry about the loss of worshipers and has started to pressure other lizardfolk communities to offer tribute to him. The party decides they have no choice but to confront the dragon. The lizardfolk tell them where the dragon's lair is located. They persuade Jin to take them once more to the north end of the island. (This time, he is accompanied by his elven wife, Sun -- they had been estranged before, for some reason.)
At the dragon's lair, the party found itself cornered by the dragon and they resorted to parley. The rogue mucked up the diplomacy by trying to pickpocket some of the dragon's treasure. When the dragon attacks, the party wizard used her heightened hold person to keep the dragon paralyzed briefly. They used this lull to offer the dragon a choice. Surmising that the dragon was stranded like the PCs were, they offered to give the dragon the coordinates to get off the island. When the dragon finaly made his saving throw, he agreed. He collected the most expensive pieces of his horde and flew away, leaving the party with a good chunk of change. Less than if they defeated the dragon, but plenty considering they didn't have to fight it.
Had this adventure been slavishly tied to LOST, the players would not have realized the dragon was trapped here like everyone else. The players took the mash-up of LOST and Isle of Dread and made it their own. And they loved it.
(On their way back, they ran into the gargoyles, who abducted Jin and Sun. Entering the gargoyles' lair to rescue them, a former DHARMA station called the Pearl, they discovered a map revealing the location of all the other DHARMA temples.)
In the next installment of the playtest, they will accompany Jack to the central Temple -- called the Orchid -- hopefully to finally discover a way to rescue all of the castways... or possibly send them into the past!
I hope you found this playtest report entertaining, useful and inspiring! Let me know if you're interested in hearing about how the adventure ends.